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Special education takes a step forward in Egypt

Posted Sep 06 2009 10:11pm

A recent story from the Egypt Today website caught my eye:

Into the Mainstream

After decades of virtually no access to education, children with special needs are getting a shot at the regular school system

The story details how the Egyptian Ministry of Education is changing its policy towards special needs students. The story gives an interesting view into how special education is handled in what is to me a very different culture.

It is both encouraging and very discouraging at the same time. According to the story, few of Egypt’s special needs students are currently getting any education. About 1.8%. Egypt plans to increase this to about 10% by 2012. So they are increasing enrollment of special ed students a lot, and will still leave about 90% unserved.

As it stands, children with special needs have had practically no access to mainstream schooling. Now, as the MOE moves to open classroom doors for them, families are faced with a new dilemma: will their children be better off integrated into public and private schools, or should they remain in special schools for the disabled?

The idea is to allow kids only into regular education environments. This will obviously limit who is accepted:

Even after training and renovation, schools will not be able to accept all children with disabilities that come to their doors. A prospective special needs student will undergo an evaluation exam prior to admission. To be eligible for a regular school, a student must not have a dual disability, such as visual and hearing impairments or a combined mental and physical disability. His or her Stanford IQ must be higher than 52 points, and his or her hearing impairment may not exceed the diagnosis of moderately severe hearing loss. Under the MOE plan, each classroom will have no more than four special needs students.

I must say I disagreed with the following paragraph:

“If I’m a child with a disability and I’m always around others who also have disabilities, then I’m not challenged and I don’t have a role model,” says Abdel Hak. In regular schools, she says, a child with special needs interacts with other children and picks up some skills through observation and practice.

I hope Abdel Hak learns soon: a child can be challenged and have a role model while in a special education environment.

This story makes me appreciate all the more the people who pushed through special education laws in the United States. Our system is also both encouraging and (very) discouraging. It is certainly not what I think a special education system should be. But, with apologies to those in Egypt, it could be a lot worse.

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